9th December 2020

Wednesday, 6:15 pm to 6:45 pm (Planning), 6:45 pm to 10 pm (Observation)

Southern Galaxy Hunt!


The sky is clear without much clouds. I can see Fomalhaut, Deneb, Altair and Ankaa clearly.

Today was a productive day. I observed two galaxies and a globular star cluster. When I surveyed the sky in the evening at 6:45 pm it was really clear. Fomalhaut, Ankaa, Deneb and Altair were clearly visible. By 7 I set up my telescope near the pond after making a quick plan using Stellarium. I was planning to locate some galaxies near Phoenix and Sculptor. After making a quick list of objects and getting ready with their respective maps from the atlas, I was ready for my observations.

I initially pointed my scope at Ankaa and star hopped around a bit to find C72. I could relate the patterns of stars in the sky with the atlas, but the galaxy was not evident. Soon the entire sky was covered with clouds. I had to wait for about half an hour until everything started to clear up. I was hearing music to kill time. I had thought about packing everything up and coming back again at night, but I felt if I did this, I might not want to do all the setting up again and wouldn't come at all. I decided to wait it out for the clouds to clear. I'm glad I chose to do this, as the sky started clearing up in about 20 minutes and had started to cloud up by the time I went for dinner (Post dinner I only got to sketch the rest of the galaxy I spotted. Everything went cloudy after that upto midnight).

So as the clouds started clearing up, I saw small patches of clear sky here and there and tried aiming my scope there. After some time the sky consistently became clear at the part of Cetus, directly overheaed. I was able to see Mars and the stars Dheneb (η Cet) and Al-Naymat (θ Cet) and I star hopped around η Cet a bit. The Stellarium app showed that there is a planetary nebula near η Cet and I hopped to its location. I obviously wasn't able to see it as it was a magnitude 11 object.

I was able to see Diphada and Ankaa in the sky by now and hopped from η Cet to Diphada easily. Looking at the atlas showed me that two of my targets for the day, C65 and MGC 288 lie on the way between Diphada and Ankaa. I casually went down from Diphada and saw a bunch of stars, bright and forming triangles. I checked the atlas and sure enough they're there. I hopped around from one triangle to the next with the help of the atlas and the small little plastic card I had made with a 2° circle on it.

The galaxy was shown to be close to the patterns I just observed. I was casually sweeping the telescope through the area and suddenl a very distinct patch of elongated 'grayness' entered my field of view! I checked the positions again with the atlas and sure enough it was C65, the Sculptor Galaxy!

The Sculptor Galaxy, although of magnitude 8, is very bright and big anough to be noticed when sweeping through the skies. Unlike some other globular clusters or galaxies, it doesn't require us to 'look' for the object to see it. I wouldn't say the night was a clear night. Well if it were that clear, I should've been able to see all the stars in the area with my naked eyes which I couldn't. I definitely believe that it can get clearer. I wonder how the Sculptor Galaxy would look like under more clearer skies right here from home.

After finding C65, I tried to located the String of Pearls again, now that that part of the sky is clear without any clouds. I started from Ankaa and hopped to the asterism where it said the galaxy was supposed to be. With averted vision I was able to see a really faint smudge. The only way I could confirm that I was actually seeing the galaxy was by noting the direction the galaxy was seen in and comparing it with Stellarium. The galaxy being faint to see was also due to it being really narrow unlike other galaxies like C65.

I sketched the galaxy, atleast what I could see of it. I checked in Stellarium later on and the smudge I saw was inded the galaxy itself.

Once I sketched the String of Pearls, I went back to sketching the Sculptor Galaxy and a detailed star hopping chart for the same. I was in between sketching it while I realised that I could find the star cluster in the same area too. I had looked around the first time but I hadn't seen anything. This time I started looking around that area really hard using averted vision. Eventually I was able to identify the cluster as a faint patch of light - a gray smudge that is really hard to miss if not for my previous experiences of locating fainter globular clusters (or should I say locating and being disappointed :P ).

Anyway I left to have dinner midway sketching C65 and NGC 288. After having dinner I came back to see that the stars have moved a bit to the West. But I could still find the two galaxies and the cluster and I was able to complete the sketches. By the time I completed drawing the sky was overcast. The area of Cassiopeia was still clear though. I tried aiming my telescope at Cassiopeia and sweeped the sky but I couldn't see much as it was obstructed by trees from where I was standing in the ground.

Overall, I felt it was a really productive evening and found that having a couple targets preplanned helps make the observing session much more productive and easier to manage and find more fainter objects.